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Another Pointless Broadband Survey

As far back as the 1990s attempts have been made to improve internet access in rural areas. Since we are a rural area that could use high speed broadband, the subject comes up here every so often.

Cyber-upgrades have typically involved haphazard attempts to “inventory” or “survey” the kinds of e-connections rural people and communities presently have and what they'd like to have. It has never taken a survey to know they want faster service. The arguments in favor of the rural upgrade range from improving rural commerce and tourism to the argument that handy internet access is a federal obligation similar to what rural electrification was in the 1930s.

Nothing practical has come of these efforts to expand high speed internet access to rural areas because the Big Telecoms — ATT, Verizon, Comcast — don’t see any money to be made bringing a small number of rural citizens into the global village. And, of course, Big Telecom doesn't want the government regulating their monopolies, which are becoming ever more monopolistic as the public pays more and more for the Big Three's services.

No surprise that the California legislature and the California Public Utilities Commission have sided with Big Telecom as bought off elected officials and toothless public watchdogs protect Big Business at the expense of the public interest.

Big Telecom argues that if the government gets involved in their business by ordering them to provide services to rural areas, government would be obstructing their business.

Locally, Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg positioned himself early in his term as a big champion of the rural broadband upgrade efforts. Sonoma County liberal Supervisor Efren Carrillo has done much the same. Both have correctly painted Big Telecom as keeping their constituents technologically deprived.

Supervisor Hamburg responded indignantly a couple of years ago when I simply pointed out that an attempt to get a broadband funding bill through the California legislature had suffered setbacks due to resistance from Big Telecom, a statement of obvious fact. Hamburg said I had somehow underestimated the grass-roots broadband effort’s legislative momentum. (Which turned out to be minimal and ineffective.)

But the well-meaning attempts by the Hamburg-Carrillo people, most recently calling themselves the now defunct Golden Bear Broadband Alliance, have taken years and years of time surveying, lobbying, holding meetings, drafting legislation, making presentations — all of which has gone nowhere. The legislature refused to allocate PUC money to the effort and the PUC itself has refused to take the issue seriously. What few digital upgrades have occurred have been done by Big Telecom, albeit fragmented and unpredictable.

This week another smaller grouping of the same Hamburg-Carrillo types from Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Mendocino counties announced that they are going to try again. With $250k in seed money from the same PUC that has so far refused to fund the actual broadband cable upgrades, the new Four County Broadband grouping now says they’re going to spend the next two years doing yet another survey of internet service levels, then create another report, do another round of lobbying, hold more meetings, draft legislation, make presentations.

It’s hard to avoid seeing this entire exercise as yet another pointless liberal exercise to fund themselves; to make it look like they’re doing something for the little guy out in the sticks by taking a snapshot of broadband service that will be obsolete by the time it’s finished. Pretending that the $250k in PUC money is something more than a cheap way to make them go away for two more years borders on the cynical. While the PUC and Big Telecom continue at their own slow pace.

Grants and blah-blah is a formula that the area’s Democratic Party Axis has honed to science, pretending to be doing something for the public while establishing themselves to the inattentive as champions of the little guy.

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